The Higher Edge
The Higher Edge

Episode · 2 months ago

Through the Transfer Gate: Breaking Down Student Transfer Barriers ft. Darla Cooper

ABOUT THIS EPISODE

An alarming number of students are not reaching a critical step in their journey toward a bachelor's degree — transferring their community college work to 4-year universities and colleges in order to continue their education. 

When students can’t reach these goals, it undermines their ability to succeed after investing in themselves and their education. It feels like a fruitless task. 

Darla Cooper, Executive Director of The RP Group, joins us to share what she and her research team discovered in their efforts to better understand the student transfer problem. 

Join us as we discuss:

  • Findings from the "Through the Gate" student transfer study (5:32)
  • The role of gender, race, ethnicity, or region on transfer rates (12:26)
  • How to positively influence the student transfer journey (22:31)   

Check out these resources we mentioned during the podcast:

To hear this interview and many more like it, subscribe on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, or listen on our website (https://www.thehigheredge.com) or search for "The Higher Edge" in your favorite podcast player.

Ye. Welcome to the higher edge, a podcast for the brightest minds and higher education, to hear from the change makers and rule breakers that are driving meaningful, impactful change for colleges and universities across the country, from improving operations to supporting student success. These are the stories that give you the higher edge. And now your host, Brendan Albitch. Hey everyone, welcome to the higher edge. I'm Brendan Aldrich and I'm here today with Darla Cooper, who's the executive director of the RP group. The RP group is a nonprofit, nonpartisan research organization dedicated to evidence based decision making that promotes student success, increases equitable outcomes, improves college operations and informs policymakers in the State of California. Darla, welcome to the show and thanks so much for joining us here on the higher edge. Thank you for having me. First of all, Darla, I know that most people involved in research can take a traditional approach to entering the field, such as your original studies and psychology, before pursuing your master's and doctorate and education. But what I think is even more fascinating is that you started as a counselor now, how do you bring that experience forward to support your work in institutional research? Well, at first I didn't. I went through a period where I didn't want people to know that I used to be a counselor because I was kind of trying to move on from that career and wanting to focus on research and I had this somewhat irrational fear that people were going to make me, somehow they could make me start counseling students again, when I that's not what I wanted to to do Um. But I did spend time. I spent ten years doing Um counseling in a variety of different kind of formats at at USC University of Southern California, and at some point I actually had other people had to point it out to me that...

I had a situation where I was doing some work with a colleague and I just mentioned that, you know, when I was a counselor, blah, blah, blah, and they were like and just kind of in the middle of everything, they went wow, oh my God, that explains so much and I'm kind of like, I don't know how to take that, but they were basically, when I was able to talk to them later they said, oh well, you seemed different from other researchers. You had this more kind of human or aspect to your research, you know, really kind of focusing on on on the people and that students are people. These numbers represent people who have full and complete lives and experiences, and so I was like, Oh, I guess there was a compliment. Then I wasn't sure, but, you know, I was doing the counseling peace for some time and then while I was in graduate school, you know, I had an internship that I had to do and, uh, my teacher the one doing the internship. I said, I don't know what to do and they were like, Oh, the vice president of Student Affairs needs help with surveys. Go help her, and I went that sounds boring. Why would I want to do that? And she pretty much said shut up and do it, and I just got really like into it to the point where I started making notes about how we can improve the survey and analyzing the data, and the vice president was Um impressed that I got that involved in it and had all those opinions. She told me I needed to kind of calm down because I didn't obviously coming in as a graduate assistant, you know, kind of level. I didn't understand the full picture, but she took the time to explain. She was a huge mentor for me and life changing because as a result of that internship, which was unpaid by the way, but that did turn into a paid graduate assistant position and then some you know, I'm going to shorten...

...the story, but some years later it ended up turning into a full time job with that Vice President of Student Affairs, and I had this unique position where I was actually doing counseling and research at the same time Um and then eventually I was kind of like, I think I really would just like to focus on the research. And in Graduate School I met several people who worked at the community college because I I went to Um. I went to a UC right out of high school, so I didn't have that experience, but I did take a few classes during the summer at the local community college and just from talking to my my classmates who worked at the Community College, I started to think that maybe that was a better fit for me, and so I made the switch and I've been at the community college in this sphere for more years than I cared to admit. Well, and so that's and that was your second of three careers really, so starting with counselor going on to researcher and now CEO of a of an education research and non profit. Yeah, I didn't see that one coming, um. I I fully expected to kind of stick with the research career until retirement, that I assumed retirement was going to be my third career. But here I am, Um and uh, I love what I do, I love our our organization and what we stand for and what we're, have been, are and are trying to be. Um. So it's exciting and we're so thankful that you are in that world because, among other things, you've been doing great research, including being the driving force, co directing through the gate since two thousand sixteen, which is a research initiative supported by College Futures Foundation, E C MC Foundation and the Lumina Foundation. It involves more than two million students and is focused on identifying ways to increase the transfer rates of community college students who are close to transfer but have not yet made it to university. I'd love to hear your...

...perspective on not only why transfer is so important, but maybe some of the initial findings from that first report the majority of of the underrepresented groups who attend higher education start out in the community college. It is their way to the university. Many students, for a variety of reasons, are not able to access the university right out of high school and so they need to have a way to get, another way to get to the university because again, there's lots of data that shows how much having a bachelor's degree can affect your your quality of life, your ability to to make money, right for that economic mobility, and so that's why transfer is key. If you have most of these students from these underrepresented groups accessing the university in this way, then transfer is key. So if we're not looking at equity in transfer, then we're not looking at equity. So through the gate, started from some simple conversations among colleagues, we're getting a sense that there was a group students out there who were doing all the work, taking the classes, paying the money, spending the time and the energy, amassing a lot of units and, in some cases significant debt, and then not going on to to the university. And so that's kind of a head scratcher. Right. He's like, why would anybody go through all of them and not go to the next step. Transfer is not the student's ultimate goal. Students don't transfer and go whoo, I'm done right. It's a step to their, you know, their next goal, which is obviously the fastest degree and in most cases other goals after that, whether that's graduate education or a career. And so we have to kind of keep that in mind when we're looking at that. Is that transfer its not the goal. It's a goal, it's an intermediate goal, but it is the hurdle you must get over to get to those other goals. So we started off by just looking at the data and over the five year period that we look that, we found about three thousand students who fit this...

...category, and so it was kind of like, okay, I think we need to research this a bit more. We need to find out what is going on. What what is happening with with students who, again, spend all the time, money, energy and don't transfer. Why not? And so we we looked at the quantitative data in a in a variety of ways and and then said, okay, that's great, that's lots of information. You know, kind of came from that. But we also need to find these students and ask them, because you're not going to get the why from the data. You can get the WHO and some of the what, a little bit of the how, but not the why, and so that's really what what are through the gate study was designed to do, and then since then it has spawned other studies. So in the report one of the things that talks about is that it's not just a did you or didn't you transfer, but you were developed an entire transfer continuum around the student journey. Is that right? Correct Um? Again, it's acknowledging that students don't just transfer or not transfer, that there's there's a whole journey that it takes a lot of again, time, energy effort to get there. And so our study, uh, kind of categorized this group of students and we referenced them as High Leverage Students, and we use that term because these are students who have, in most cases, at least sixty units of transferable credits, all right, and and some of them have met their English and math requirements, some haven't, but that's a lot of time and effort and and those students are are going to be easier to leverage right to to get to transfer. Then it's than working with someone who only has ten units, zero units, twenty units, that kind of thing. So that's that's what that is. And and essentially the that high leverage group, we call them, at the gate and near the gate, and the real difference between the two is the English...

...and math completion Um. So are at the gate students from again, from everything we can tell in the data and the quantitative data, they've met the they've checked all the boxes, they've got the sixty plus transferable units, they've they've got a two point. Oh, they've completed their transfer level of English and math. And we also included in that group students who had completed the associate degree for transfer. That's something specific here to California. That is is supposed to it's, you know, more complicated than I'm going to simplify it, but it it's supposed to guarantee you your admission into a California State University. If you have this degree, it's your ticket into the university. So again, and why would somebody go through the effort of completing that degree, which literally has transfer in the name, and then not transfer right? So that that's kind of our at the gate group and the near the gate group are students who also have the sixty units, also have the two point Oh, but they have not completed it, that English and math. Some of them may have completed one or the other or neither, but that is that is their hurdle that they seemed, you know, they haven't been able to go over there. So they're very near the gate but they're not quite at the game. Hey, for everyone listening, hang tight. We're going to take a quick break to hear from our sponsor and we'll be back in just one minute. All colleges and universities face challenges in advancing the mission of higher education. Some problems impeding your progress are known, but others are invisible, hidden, impossible to address. Invoke learning changes everything, built on revolutionary technology that's light years beyond anything you've seen yet. Our leading edge data platforms and deep analytic solutions give institutions of higher education some real life superpowers to support the entire student journey. Ask questions you never imagined could be answered. Get unprecedented insights that lead to impacting action. What's holding you back today from taking your...

...mission further tomorrow? Find out and discovered just how far you can go. Contact invoc learning at www dot invoke learning dot com in vocal learning. This is education empowered. Thanks so much for listening to our sponsor. Let's get back to the show now. Amongst those different groups, one of the things that you did with the study was explore the role of gender and race, ethnicity and even region for students at different points in the transfer continuum, with, I thought, some interesting and intriguing findings amongst the African, American and Latino communities. If you could share some of those results, absolutely so. Um, the finding that surprised a lot of people, but not me because I had done research in this area before was, again, if you look at the group of students, the two that I mentioned, the apt to get in the near the gate, and then you you look at every and then you add in the students who actually did transfer. Right, so you've got kind of those three groups. Out of the entire population that we looked at that the proportions were basically about two thirds had transferred and the other third was split between the at the gate and the near the gate students, so around sixty. Well, but then we disaggregated that data to see what those numbers look like for each ethnic group and we looked at gender, not not as much of a difference there. There were some differences by you know, certain certain regions, but the most striking finding in that case was with our African American students, where they actually were the most likely to have transferred out of that group. So again, that sixty six. That was for the whole group. That same number for African Americans was seventy Um and so it wasn't just that they were higher than the which they were the highest, which...

...kind of you know, lended itself to, you know, for us to kind of ask the question, Huh. I know that's not very we don't actually write research questions like Huh, but that was the motivation to go. We we need to find out what's happening, because what that said to us is that, well, first of all you have to to step back and look at if you look at transfer rates from the point of freshmen right, follow them for some period of time, usually, you know, six years or so, and African Americans have them usually among the lowest transfer rates when you look at it from that starting point. But if you look at it from this point of like sixty units, essentially, so students who can make it too. At some point. I don't think the point is sixty units, but some something is happening between zero and sixty, where it flips and they go from being kind of, if not the least likely, much among the least likely to the most likely. Something's going on and that's where, you know, Um, which will again, we'll talk about them a little bit. It spawned, you know, a new research project and to try to find out what, what is that tipping point? What is it that is turning the picture around for our African American students? And then regarding our our Latin x are are Latino, Latino communities, what we found, Um, with them was that they were actually the group most likely to earn, uh, that a d t, that associate degree for transfer, and they but and but they were the least likely to transfer. So again, that's that head scratcher in terms of why would anyone put forth this effort and not transfer? So we're actually in the process now of trying to to find support to conduct that research study to dig into that question in terms of how this particular population is being affected and what. Again, all of our research is...

...not just to kind of point the finger, to say, Oh, look at this problem, this problem that problems right, right, who's solving this problem? And so with with both of these studies, we want to find the places that don't fit the stereotype right, that don't match the data, that are excelling at transferring African American students and Latin xment. So that's that's kind of where the direction that we're headed in right now. That'll be intriguing. I know now on the original report, you did publish phase two near around the beginning of the pandemic. It was around May and July, and in this case you actually had gone further in terms of interviewing and serving the students to determine factors that were most relevant to them as they were deciding whether or not to transfer to university. So imagine getting to that why that you were talking about. And personally I love this kind of on the ground, subject oriented research. What did you hear from the students? So much, so much, but we we were able to boil it down to what we call our student transfer capacity building framework, which is four factors Um that. UH, again, when we ask students what is helping or hindering their ability to transfer, you know again, after they've reached these milestones. Again, we talked to the students who met those categories that near the gator aft the gate Um criteria. And so the four factors, the number one factor, and again we disaggregated data. There's there's so much information that we don't have time for me to go into, but the one thing I will say about the disaggregation is that for that, for the first factor, there were no differences, meaning it was everyone's number one factor as a challenge, the number one most challenging factor, and and that is called university affordability, and what it more or less boils down to is that students don't they don't know if they can afford the university. They can't see it, they can't they can't...

...see the possibility, they don't see a way, you know, to to doing that. They don't have enough information while they're still, like in community college, while they're considering things, because again, everybody can look up a website and see what tuition costs, but they also have enough knowledge to know that's not it. There's so many there's there's so many other costs to go into the university, and not just the ones at the university you know, books and things like that, but how am I going to where am I going to live? How am I going to pay for that? I've got children, I've got, you know, family I've got, there's a lot of I've got and I've got to work. How how am I going to get there? What's the transportation? What about childcare? There's all these different factors that students are like, I don't see a way and we personally, we didn't necessarily verify this in the research, but just in talking to students, they if you think about it from this perspective, at least here in California, you a lot of students can qualify to get their tuition paid for Um in the California community college system. A lot of students qualify for that. Well, if they're gonna and then that's it. That's the only aid that they get. They have to figure out how to pay for everything else. Um, if they applied that same logic to the university, they're they're gonna go. I can't afford it. If all YOU'RE gonna pay for is tuition, I still can't afford, you know, to go to the university. So they don't also know that the financial aid gates, so to speak, open up at the university. There's a bunch of financial aid that's only available to university students. That's not available to community college students. So again, it's things like that that we need to do a better job of helping students understand and just see that it's possible. Um, the other factors that we did find some differences again disaggregating, but pathway navigation. Students talked a...

...out about, Um, not taking the right classes at the right time and the right order, not getting the information that they need to be making the right decisions. Um, not knowing what their major is, not really getting enough help to kind of figure out their path. So a lot about that. The other one huge school life balance. You know, our students and in our community colleges are are juggling a lot of things. I said a lot of them are parents or they have other family responsibility for siblings or grandparents, you know, parents, things like that. They have to work. Um, there's a lot going on in their lives and there they struggle trying to see how am I going to be able to balance everything in my life with going to the university? I'm just not seeing so a lot of a lot of these factors are are the students inability to see what's possible. They don't know what kind of help is available for them. They don't know what the schedules look. You know, options are you know? Do they have on line classes? Do they have evening classes? Do they have weekend classes? You know all of those. Can I go part time? All of those things are kind of unclear to to students. They're they're not made obvious. And then the final factor is support network, which is just acknowledging that hardly anybody does it alone. I don't know anybody who has, quite frankly, in some capacity, whether it's your family at home, whether it's a group of friends, whether it's a counselor a teacher, uh, someone who works in the cafeteria, it doesn't matter. But kind of emphasizing that what we saw was that having a network or not having one really did influence students. kind of again seeing the possibility of transfer. Students who had that support network, and it gets a variety of people fulfilling a variety of needs and a variety of roles. People who had that were much more optimistic about their their chances of going on to transfer. The people who didn't have that were past mystic they weren't sure, Um, how they were going to to do...

...it. So that was so interesting. But I think the purpose of the framework is is to kind of take things that a lot of us kind of already knew in some ways, but to put it in something concrete and tangible and and it might it helped, hopefully give you the framework to target your effort, to try to say what can you do about support network work? Can you do about university affordability, as opposed to the bigger question, which is how do we help students transfer? You mentioned the report, the student transfer capacity building framework. Now, with that in mind, are there things that colleges can do now to help better support students achieving transfer, both both in the way that we used to look at a pre pandemic as well as now, during and towards the later ends of the pandemic? What can colleges do? Absolutely well, first I'll say you know we we've put out a variety of reports and briefs and infographics and things like that, and all of them includes advice recommendations of what colleges and universities can do. Um to to help students transfer. And and again they were in the original study. There were recommendations their phase to the COVID UH survey as well. So there's recommendations all along the way. But I would say the overall kind of recommendation is that transfer is not the community college's responsibility solely. They must universities must step up and be true partners in this. And and and it has to go beyond you know, what do they call those university days? Or you know, where the universities come to campus. It's it's got to be much more effort has to be put into that, helping students uh as close as seamless as possible. But but most importantly too, they need to see it. They need to see that it's possible for them and how, how it's possible. Not just a dream with no no specifics, but literally, how is...

...it going to be possible for me to go to the to the university, and so Um, that's kind of the key thing in terms of the university affordability. Again, that's their chief concern. Then that's what we need to be focusing on. Getting helping students see it in a realistic way, not just like I'm sure it will be okay. And again I'm not promoting that we should start packaging students for financial aid at the university while they're still at the community college. Obviously not, but even just telling them this is this, these are all the cost and these are the this is the the financial aid scholarships work. Study all the different ways that you can access that you may not have access to now, Um when you transfer to the university, that there there is more aid available to you. Finding ways to give students the information they need based on where they are in their journey, because that student who has zero units, who have thirty units, who has forty five units, sixty units, they need different information. And there's so many times. I have been doing this a long time and one thing I have heard consistently for again, longer than years than I want to quantify, is the students saying, I wish I had known about this earlier, whether that's a program whether that's a requirement, whether that's advice. You know that that would set them up for success. They wish they had known about things earlier. So really kind of taking into account and mapping out what does a student with zero units, fifteen units, thirty units, sixty units need to know at that time. Um School life balance. This is one where we were concerned that when we put this out there, that people would kind of push back. College folks would push back and say, well, I can't control their life, I can't change there the fact that they're a parent. And I'm like, no, of course not. But are you trying to take that into consideration when you're scheduling, when you're scheduling classes, how you offer the...

...classes our faculty? Taking that into consideration in terms of these these rules of no accept no late papers and no that, no exceptions and none of this. Where is the compassion? That's that's what school life balance, you know. That factor is really trying to appeal to. is where's your compassion? And, and I I'm not saying you know, just just let everything go. Obviously students need structure, they need to understand, and a lot of people kind of argue about the real world doesn't have that. I'm like, actually, the real world does have exceptions. Quite frankly, you know who you know and where you are and you know what you know and all of those things. So compassion Um and also looking at your services. If you're only open, you know, nine to four. What about the student who works nine to five? Right? How are they supposed to access toutoring? How are they supposed to, you know, get to financial aid, you know, have things online? That's the other thing the pandemic showed us, and we heard this from a lot of students, is how certain services were actually became more accessible in the pandemic because they were forced to go online. You had to make an appointment online, versus there were schools that make students have to come in person at a certain time on a certain day, make an appointment not to see the councilor make an appointment to see the councils and when they run out out of appointment's try again next week. But with the online scheduling, students can go in at whatever time, onto the website, look it up. Oh, that's fine. Uh. So that's kind of the UH, the piece about the compassion and that. And then, finally, against support network. First you've got to let students know that they need to build one, they need to have one, they cannot do this alone, and then help them build it, facilitate different kinds of activities and opportunities for them to to get to know their teachers, to get to know counselors, to get to know other students and other people on the campus. The research has spawned additional research efforts as well, including what looks to be some exciting insights into African Americans students with the African American transferred Tipping Point Study.

Now I think you're near the end of that study and wondered if there are any insights that you could share with us about the work, maybe ahead of the actual official report publication. Well, this study is modeled very similar to through the gate in terms of phases. So we're just ending the first phase, which is that quantitative peace and again trying to find in that data where are those again kind of tipping points? where? Where what is making the difference between a student being more or less likely to transfer? So we we did that research and we looked at the results and win Huh, what does that mean? And so we concluded that we needed to pause and and speak to students and practitioners to try to get some context around what these results kind of mean, and we're very, very thankful that we took that pause because we were very concerned about if we just released this information without context, people are just going to go, oh well, that's it, nothing we can do about it, kind of that response. And so we wanted to to say to try to give again that context, some nuance to where it's like, well, why is this finding? Why did we, you know, find this had an impact? And so our plan is to release the information, the reports and we're gonna have a Webinar in October. Is What we're targeting. But it's not surprisingly. What we found was that completing transfer level English and math was a significant influence on it, on whether a student was going to be successful and UH. But in addition to that, we found impacts related to counseling, whether students received counseling or not, whether students had put and put on academic probation or not, and whether they had participate aided...

...in a program that we have here in the state of California. It's called Emosa you, M o j a Emosia, which is a African term for for unity, and it's a program that is for African American students in the Califernan community college system. And so we found that students, you know, being able to who participated in that Um had higher chances for success. So that's that's where we are. You know, there'll be lots more information coming in October, so I invite you to and your listeners to check that out when, when those come out. I know we're getting close to wrapping up, but before we do I typically love for our listeners to hear these insights and the experiences from our guests that that might help give them the higher edge and the way they look at and approach things. So I'm curious that we started by talking about your journey from counselor to researcher to CEO and I wondered if along the way there was a story maybe about something someone said or something you experienced that maybe helped shape the way you look at an approach your work that you could share. What comes to mind is to work hard and be open, and so you have to be open to the opportunities that that come your way. But the opportunities are more likely to come your way if if you work hard and people see that, if you let people see who you are, what you can do Um, then that you're more likely to for somebody to reach out and say, Hey, have you ever thought about doing this. Hey, I think you'd be good at that, Um, because you've got to let people see your your your shine, right. You've got to let people see what a star you you are, and then you just have to to be open to making that left turn. You know again, I I none of these steps along my my journey were what I originally planned or planned after that or planned after that. It was always just kind of like, Oh, okay, I'm I'm I'm happy doing what I'm doing, but I'm I'm working hard, I'm letting people see again who I am and what I can do and opportunities, you know, came my way and I...

I said yes, I said yes, great advice. Well, Darla, thank you so much for coming on the show and sharing your experiences with us today. For our listeners, we've been talking with Darla Cooper, the executive director for the RP group in California. For more information about the RP group and download full copies of the published work, including the studies mentioned on today's show, please visit their website at www dot RP group dot org. Darla, would it be all right with you if listeners would like to reach out to you with questions about today's episode. Absolutely if you're listening and you'd like to continue the conversation with Darla, just drop an email to Darla at the higher edge dot com. That's Darla D A R L A at the higher edge DOT COM. Darla, it has been a real pleasure to have you on the show. Thanks again for coming on and being a guest with us on the higher edge and for everyone listening. I'm Brendan Aldrich and we'll talk soon. Thanks for listening to the higher edge. For more, subscribe to us on your favorite podcast platform. Leave us a review if you loved the show, and be sure to connect with Brendan on Linkedin. Know someone WHO's making big changes at their higher at institution that belongs on this podcast, drop us a line at podcasts at the higher edge DOT com. The higher edge is sponsored by invoke learning in partnership with Westport Studios. Using opinions expressed by individuals during the podcast are their own. See how invoke learning is empowering higher education at invoke learning DOT com.

In-Stream Audio Search

NEW

Search across all episodes within this podcast

Episodes (15)